Writings and observations.

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Not often, but sometimes, the old line “if you build it, they will come,” actually does pan out.

It did at the College of Western Idaho. CWI became a reality over the objections of a significant number of skeptics.

Boise was, before then, either the largest or at least one of the largest metro areas in the United States without a community college. But then, people asked, why did it need one? It already had Boise State University, which had been growing at weed levels for a quarter-century. On the private side, the College of Idaho and Northwest Nazarene College (now University) were nearby.

What was missed was the large number of people who wanted a community college, who would attend if one were available. BSU and the private colleges have needed roles, but they are relatively expensive and, for people looking for occupational training rather than a full liberal arts education, a little forbidding. There’s a big chunk of the Idaho population that hasn’t and won’t make the direct transition from high school to college.

These people had no strong political voice; they weren’t much heard from in the halls of the Statehouse. But over time the business people who lacked a force of trained workers were heard. For decades the idea of a community college floated, bobbed along, but never reached shore.

About a decade ago sufficient gravitational mass in favor of it – financial, organizational, political – pushed it ahead. (The campaign in favor featured pictures of prospective students and used the advertising tag line, “Give us a chance.”) The vote to create a new taxing district to support the college needed a two-thirds vote, and it barely passed, even with help from influential people in the area including Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter.

Back then, the thinking was that CWI would be a small institution, serving maybe a few thousand students. If it didn’t flop. Initial enrollment in 2009 was 1,100. Last year, seven years later, it hit 24,265. Don’t be surprised if that figure eventually doubles.

Okay, that’s the past. Cast your eyes now to Idaho Falls.

That eastern Idaho city does already have a college, Eastern Idaho Technical College. It’s a useful institution too, with low costs, but limited in its size and scope. Its enrollment is fewer now than CWI’s was when it opened. It needs the breadth a community college, like CWI or North Idaho College or the College of Southern Idaho, all of which have much larger enrollments (and in the latter two cases, in smaller cities), could bring.

The push to transition EITC to a community college (the College of Eastern Idaho, to round out the compass points) has been underway for a while. But now it may have gotten that added bit of momentum.

A governor’s statement that something ought to happen is by no means always enough, as any governor could tell you. But in this case it could be important. In his state of the state address last week, Otter linked the CWI experience to the push for an eastern community college in what could be a strong kickstart.

The legislature already threw in $5 million in seed money (which it did in advance of CWI, too).

Then Otter added, “Now the people of Bonneville County must decide at the polls in May whether to invest in their own future by advancing plans to provide better opportunities for students and families, for those looking to improve their career readiness, and for businesses looking to locate or expand. After seeing the difference that the College of Western Idaho has made here in the Treasure Valley, after seeing how quickly CWI has grown to meet pent-up demand for new educational opportunities, and after seeing the overwhelmingly positive response from employers, the College of Eastern Idaho campaign has my full and enthusiastic support.”

That may help push some wary voters over the line.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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A new ballot petition being circulated around Idaho would put directly a question many people uneasily dance around:

Is abortion murder?

It comes from a group called Abolish Abortion Idaho (website http://www.abolishabortionid.com), based at Hayden. It calls for not repealing the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, but defying it. There’s the possibility coming changes at the court could lead to a repeal anyway, but the effort here is no gray-area endeavor. It’s a frontal challenge based around the group’s core principles and, it has to be said, those of a lot of Idaho’s elected officials.

The web site argues: “Idaho Code already says that abortion is murder but that it may not be prosecuted. [This appears to be accurate.] This petition will establish equal justice for the preborn by prosecuting all who would murder them. The initiative is about equal protection under the law for preborn babies, and it eliminates the ability of a special class of people to commit a serious crime without the fear of prosecution.”

To that end the proposal would set state policy that abortion, any abortion at any stage of development, be prosecuted the same as any heinous serial killer murder you can recall. The proponents add, “There will be no exceptions for rape and incest, since the baby should never pay for the crimes of the fathers. The traditional exceptions for abortion when the life or health of the mother are threatened have been eliminated as well.”

AAI is rigorously consistent here. If you do believe abortion is murder, as so many Idaho political figures have said so clearly for so many years, then why should each provable case not be prosecuted as such? No crime, after all, is ordinarily more rigorously prosecuted than murder.

To be clear: I’m not, in this column, arguing the merits of that determination of abortion as murder. But in Idaho and around the country many politicians who have made the “abortion is murder” argument, have spent decades tinkering with the laws (to make abortion more difficult, inconvenient and expensive), while knowing that Roe v. Wade means their beliefs will never be put to the test.

The nature of the test is alluded to by AAI, but in a way you might generously call over-optimistic: “The goal of the initiative is not to punish mothers, but it is to abolish abortion. Once abortion is illegal with a severe associated penalty, we expect that very few women will ever be prosecuted under this new law.”

There are two ways to take this. If the group means to suggest little prosecution because prosecutors would rarely bring the cases, that suggests the change in law would have no teeth, and be pointless.

But if they’re suggesting the law’s intended punishment – ranging from a very long prison sentence to the death penalty – would be an effective deterrent, they’re fooling themselves. Murders of the type prosecuted now haven’t stopped, and won’t, because deep penalties are attached to them. Neither do many other heavily-punished crimes.

And if the goal “is not to punish mothers,” why not, if they’ve committed murder? You could go after doctors and nurses too (as some anti-abortion activists have in other ways). But if the law drove abortion activity away from doctors’ offices and toward other means, including self-performed abortions, how can you be rigorously in favor of legally stopping abortion without going after mothers?

This ballot issue would put the core of the question right out there. If it gets on the ballot we’ll get a chance to see what Idahoans really think about abortion – and about the consequences of following through on what has been to now mostly rhetoric.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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A year ago, looking to 2016, I had more questions about the prospects than I did any flat predictions.

Now, at the edge of 2017, that’s even more true.

A new administration is about to take office in Washington, but anyone certain about what exactly that will mean – other than something a lot different from the last eight years – is kidding themselves. Think instead in terms of a range of possibilities, many possible things that might happen. Be surprised by none of what actually does.

Focusing more locally, and revisiting some thoughts from a year ago, here are some ideas to keep watch for in the next 365.

The Trump reaction. When Idaho Republicans were given the presidential primary election choice, they went decisively not for Donald Trump but for Texas Senator Ted Cruz. In the general election, of course, they went for the nominee, but how will they react to whatever it is that Trump does – recognizing that we really have no way of knowing what he will do. In some scenarios, Idaho Republicans may happily jump on board with a familiar Republican presence. In others, Trump may be something very different.

Boise downtown development. 2017 is supposed to be the big year Boise’s downtown redevelopment all comes together. Some pieces, like the JUMP center, already are done or nearly done. But large elements of work remain, and it was only in September that ground broke on the largest single piece of up-graded downtown property. Not everything will be finished then, of course. A new hotel will await, and Boise activity won’t come to a standstill. But 2017 should mark the point when Idaho gets to see what the capitol city’s downtown looks like for some time to come.

Less-wild fires? Idaho has been the scene of some massive, powerfully destructive wildfires in recent years. 2016 turned out to be a relative reprieve from those. (There were fires of course, but the biggest of them were generally fewer and smaller.) A year ago I suggested there would be some reason for hope because of a strong snowpack developing around the state by New Year’s. The snowpack now on average is looking not too different from a year ago. Call it a hopeful sign.

More of the same at the Legislature. Whatever you thought of the 2016 legislative session, you probably can bank on 2017 being similar but maybe more so. Returning issues probably will return, but if they got little traction last session, they’ll have trouble picking up speed in the next.

Even fewer Democrats. Nationally, Democrats found silver linings in congressional or state contests; in Idaho, you’d need a microscope to find them. The number of Democrats in the legislature actually fell, to the point that Idaho from north of Boise to Canada now has just one Democratic legislator. Democrats had a few serious shots in 2016 at making inroads in Ada County, with a county commission race and a District 15 House race, both involving strong, intensive campaigns. Both fell short. Where do Idaho Democrats go now?

Health care prospects dim. Efforts to try to push a Medicaid expansion through the Legislature next session now seem evaporated, and health care and insurance for a large number of Idahoans will be at increased risk this coming year. No realistic Idaho solutions are in sight.

In all, don’t expect any startling changes.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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The Blaine County School District split deeply – the board’s vote was 3-2 – when it came to deciding whether to hire a lobbyist to represent it at the next state legislative session in Boise.

The vote went in the “yea” direction, with the support of the superintendent, who noted that such vital matters as the school funding formula, which determines how state money will be apportioned to the districts, already have been under discussion. The person hired was Phil Homer, who has been a lobbyist before, working for the Idaho Association of School Administrators.

Blaine is so far the only individual school district to take this step, and there’s been some commentary about whether it should. (There are also questions about whether various other governmental organizations, local and state, should hire lobbyists. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see other school districts consider it. A lot of lobbyists prowl the Statehouse in-season, more of them than there are legislators. And they represent some fairly unexpected interests and organizations.

You can see the most current list for yourself (dated November 16) on the secretary of state’s website at https://www.sos.idaho.gov/elect/lobbyist/2016/emplob.pdf. As you look at it, remind yourself that this is the Idaho Legislature, not Congress.

Plenty of local Idaho organizations are represented on the list, of course: The list includes the Associated General Contractors of Idaho and the Association of Idaho Cities, the Boise Chamber of Commerce and the Catholic Charities of Idaho (yes, charities hire lobbyists too), the College of Western Idaho, the Flying B Ranch, Idaho Power Company and the J.R. Simplot Company, the Fremont-Madison Irrigation District, Micron Technology and Melaleuca Inc., St. Luke’s Health System, the Idaho Farm Bureau and the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Nearly every organization of substantial size in the Gem State has someone at the Statehouse looking out for them.

But they’re not alone. Remember, a number of these and other organizations also are connected to national counterpart organizations. Some of them designate staffers as lobbyists, and others hire contract lobbyists; the mix changes periodically.

None of these should come as a surprise. But you may be interested in some of the national names that seem to find it worthwhile to spend money on Idaho lobbying.

There’s Wilks Ranch Idaho LLC, for instance, based out of Cisco, Texas, but recently a big landowner in Idaho.

There are many more, large and not so large. Wal-Mart has a designated lobbyist for Idaho. So does Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, United Parcel Service, Uber Technologies (of San Francisco), Johnson & Johnson, Two Jinn Inc. (Aladdin Bail Bonds), Chevron USA, K12 (an education company), the Humane Society of the United States, Scion Dental, Pfizer Inc. (on of the world’s biggest pharma companies), MillerCoots LLC, Bayer Corporation and even the Bank of New York Mellon.

And many more.

What have they all to do with Idaho? What do they want, or not want, in or from the Gem State? And how might that relate to you?

Good questions, and not just for the Blaine County School District.

Lobbyists often get tagged as nefarious actors and that’s generally unfair. We all have a right to seek redress of grievances, whether directly or through someone paid to help us. And bear in mind that lobbyists are not a monolith; they often do battle with each other. Will their work benefit the rest of us, or not? The answer to that will depend on where you sit.

The next session begins in a couple of weeks.

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Please pardon the reminiscing, but the time of year encourages it, as did a newspaper column I read a few days ago.

The column from last weekend was by Bill Hall, whose writing base for about six decades has been the Lewiston Tribune. Its message was, that column would be his last.

By the time I arrived at the University of Idaho back in 1974, Hall already was renowned around Idaho for his editorials and columns at the Tribune. Soon after that he departed, for about a year and a half, to work for Senator Frank Church, and there wasn’t a certainty he’d be coming back. But Church lost his presidential bid in 1976, Hall wrote a book about it (“Frank Church, D.C. and Me,” from Washington State University Press, a great read on all three topics) and soon returned to Lewiston.

His departure and his return was much noted and not just in Lewiston, where Hall’s blistering, biting and often funny editorials so often launched political conversation in the mornings. It was a big deal statewide, even in the far reaches of the state, and even in the pre-Internet era. Politically-interested people considered it necessary to get hold of what Hall was saying.

One of the Tribune writers who worked closely with Hall, Jay Shelledy (now a journalism professor at Louisiana State University), was quoted in one article about Hall, “There are not many papers in the United States where the best-read page is the editorial page. Without question, Hall is the best-known journalist in the state’s history.”

He learned about Idaho in the three corners of the state, growing up in Canyon County, then attending college and starting his newspaper career in Pocatello. By the time in 1965 he left for Lewiston, he already was well-schooled in Idaho politics. When I arrived at the Idaho State Journal newspaper a decade-plus after he’d left, I often prowled through his writings about local and state politics, using them to fill in gaps in what I was learning elsewhere.

By then I knew where to look because of Hall’s editorials, which I’d read at college and afterward. They were a lethal combination: Well informed and witty, and up for taking on just about anyone. Even Idaho hunters, as he wrote when the idea arose of a wildlife council picking Fish & Game Commission members: “That could be a two-edged sword because it might tend to give a disproportionate voice to those chronic whiners who want to blame state biologists every time they get too drunk, inept, or unlucky to kill an elk.”

Many newspapers shrink from editorial heat, but the Tribune never has. Hall’s view as I heard it was that he was good business: People might yell at the newspaper but they sure kept reading it.

Part of what allowed this to work was the unusual atmosphere at the Tribune, which issued punchy editorials before Hall’s tenure and has continued to since, under the local control of the Alford family. But Hall’s humor has been a critical individual part of the mix. Since his mid-70s hiatus his columns have been humorous, personal, often gentle – different to an almost drastic degree from the sometimes fiery editorialist. But the two sides could never be separated entirely, and a serious sensibility underlies even many of his more recent columns, since he retired from editorial writing in 2002.

No more Hall columns. Hardly seems like Idaho.

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We see examples of this all over, in our personal lives as well as public. Fix a small leak in your house’s roof today, or wait and let it become a much more expensive problem in a year or two.

Or a minor pothole in the road that turns into a major repair project after several months of neglect.

There’s a common phrase for it: “Pay me now, or pay me later.” With the “later” usually being a lot more pricey.

Last week came another good example, and we’ll be interested to see how the Idaho Legislature responds.

This comes in a request by the state Department of Health and Welfare – there’s one strike, since hardly anyone in official Idaho really likes funding those guys – for new funding (how are you going to manage tax cuts if you go adding more spending?), to the tune of $11.2 million. At least the amount is modest in the context of state budgeting. What would it be going for? Drug and mental health treatment? You can almost feel the lack of legislator ardor.

You might say the proposal doesn’t enter the process on a glide path to passage.

Here’s the background.

In Idaho, about 15,000 people are “in the system” of state probation and parole. Officials have been breaking them out into categories, based on risk of having to return or send them to prison. Around 2,000 are considered low-risk, so the parole and probation people have begun to keep them on a looser leash.

The higher-risk probationers and parolees are another matter. In a great many cases, half or more, these are people who have drug abuse and mental health problems.

Those factors have a lot to do with how much time and effort our “system” spends on them. I’ve seen this personally recently, watching not far from where I live a household with people snarled in drug and mental issues turn into a problem for the area, with local law enforcement, jails, probation and parole spending endless hours over a period of years trying to deal with it. You probably can easily find similar examples in your community. (If you can’t, just ask your local police.)

So: The $11.2 million DHW is seeking would go toward providing drug rehabilitation and treatment and mental health services directed toward the significant number of parolees who would benefit from them.

Getting back to the matter of paying now or later: A study last year by the Western Intermountain Commission on Higher Education estimated the average cost for this kind of drug/mental help would amount to about $1,514 per offender.

The state now spends about $30,400 per offender to manage these people through conventional probation and parole. More than a third of felon offenders typically have returned to prison, where the cost for housing them is upwards of $20,000 a year – but that’s just the beginning, if they’re then paroled out again (or even serve their terms and then return to the streets unprepared). They will again, one way and another, eat up many our dollars, tax dollars and otherwise.

We could pay all that, or … a much smaller amount on the front end, and maybe even get a productive citizen out of the deal.

We’ll see what the Idaho Legislature does.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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One of the less-heralded effects of this month’s election was to nearly surround Idaho with states different from it in a significant policy decision:

Almost all of Idaho’s border states now have legalized marijuana, in one way or another. And that’s going to put more pressure on Idaho on the subject.

Washington and one-state-over Colorado legalized in 2012. Oregon and one-state-over Alaska followed in 2014. This year, you can add California and Nevada to the list. (Arizona came close.) All of those allow “recreational” marijuana sales; Montana allows medicinal sales. Don’t be surprised if New Mexico follows suit in 2018.

In Wyoming, an initiative proposal this year didn’t make the ballot. But polling (from the University of Wyoming’s Survey and Analysis Center) has shown growing support there toward legalization, for medicinal pot at least. (It showed support for medicinal legalization at 81% and rising, and recreational at 41% and rising.) Ballot efforts are likely to continue there, and as California and Oregon showed, past failures don’t preclude eventual success.

So how will Idaho, whose officials at least, have been rigorously opposed to anything resembling legalization, respond to all this?

On the near-term level, and at least officially, there’s no reason to think there’ll be any change soon.

Police probably will be keeping a closer watch on vehicles from out of state. The Twin Falls Times News reported that police tracking the Highway 93 stretch from Twin Falls to Jackpot, Nevada, will not be deploying any new specific monitoring force at the border, but they will be watchful for any erratic driving they see in the area. That may be the general approach in Idaho’s border areas.

But what about the effects of a outright ban in one state of what is legal in another?

Might there be some tendency on the part of out of staters to avoid Idaho – even those not carrying marijuana, but simply concerned about the potential hassle factor? (Even if the risk of that actually isn’t very high, a reputation for it could have a big effect.) Might it be a negative in case of people considering moving? Might it, over time, start to have an economic impact? A whole lot of travel around Idaho, after all, is generated from states which have now, in whole or part, legalized.

What subtle effects might there be about the idea of a resident of those states crossing the line into Idaho?

There may also be an osmosis effect as Idahoans see their next-door neighbors sprouting new businesses and tax revenue, and without serious negative effects. This hasn’t been the subject of a lot of news stories, since we’re talking here about the absence of something, but it has been informally noted among the residents. And there have been some reports from the front. A Forbes article in August, for example, said “Two consequences that pot prohibitionists attribute to marijuana legalization – more underage consumption and more traffic fatalities – so far do not seem to be materializing in Colorado, which has allowed medical use since 2001 and recreational use since the end of 2012.”

Official Idaho isn’t likely to take much cognizance of any of that any time soon. But Idahoans around the state likely will, and that will have an effect over time.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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For the last generation of general election days, in Idaho, if it’s breathing and Republican, it gets piles of votes.

This year even more than usual. By some measures, this was the most Republican general election in Idaho since 2000. And that’s saying a lot.
Donald Trump did very well, obviously, nationally, but his just-short-of-landslide in Idaho (59.3%) was striking. Considering how decisively he lost the Republican primary a few months ago, and how much significant parts of Idaho society (notably many members of the LDS Church) disliked him, he exceeded expectations. Evan McMullin, who only a few weeks ago seemed to be exciting a lot of interest in eastern Idaho and talked a lot more like traditional Republicans (Mitt Romney, say) do, could manage only 6.7%. His problems may have been various, but crucially he didn’t have the R behind his name.

The legislature, already one of the most Republican in the nation, moved further in that direction, which barely seemed possible. The long-time House Democratic leader, John Rusche of Lewiston, lost (it wasn’t even close, a margin of more than 3,000 votes) – should Lewiston now be accounted as a Republican city, period? – along with one of the few Democratic state senators, Dan Schmidt of Moscow.

That means in the whole of Idaho north of Boise, just one Democratic legislator is left. She is Paulette Jordan, representing the Moscow-based district, and she won this time by fewer than 300 votes. She’ll be targeted next cycle.

Among Republican legislators, the most controversial probably was Heather Scott, known for her alt-right leanings, whose followers were said to have engaged in harassment of her political opposition. Scott won with 62.5%, just a little shy of the average for Republican legislative candidates throughout the north in “contested” races.

A couple of strong campaigns by Democrats to break through in Twin Falls were smacked down, rolled under Republican landslides.

The picture differed in only a few places.

The city of Boise remained Democratic-leaning, its Democratic legislators re-elected easily. But the west Boise district 15, which has been on the edge between the two parties, remained just out of Democratic reach. It’s still distinctly purple territory (the Republican legislators won there with just 56.3%, 50.8% and 56.2%), but tinged on the red side.

And District 26, the central Idaho district anchored by Sun Valley and Ketchum but surrounded by more conservative farming areas, remained the most competitive region in Idaho. It is one of the few legislative districts split by parties (two Democrats, one Republican), all three of whom won with less than 60% of the vote.

The district centered on the city of Pocatello, district 29 (Idaho State University is located there), traditionally has been the lone Democratic stronghold in eastern Idaho. It’s a stronghold no more; Democrat Mark Nye, running for the Senate, was held to 48.1%, and he might have lost but for the incursion of a Libertarian in the race. The other House seat, which Nye had held, went to Republican Dustin Manwaring. The other Democratic representative there, veteran Elaine Smith, was unchallenged this year, but don’t expect that to repeat next time. This district shows the signs of flipping Republican.

Actual competitive politics in Idaho has boiled down to one or maybe two legislative districts, out of 35.

Talk about species on the verge of extinction.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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It’s been a couple of years in the buildup, and Tuesday night gives us the payoff – for good or ill. Here’s some of what I’ll be watching for on election night from an Idaho perspective.

1. On the presidential level, Idaho will probably slip easily into the Donald Trump column. What I’ll be watching more closely is the vote percentage Evan McMullin, the independent from Utah, gets. He has been running strong in Utah, and might do well in eastern Idaho. His numbers will be worth parsing.

2. The ballot issue HJR 5 (on legislative review of executive branch regulations) has split Idaho’s governing community, with legislators (mostly) and Lieutenant Governor Brad Little in favor, and Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden opposed. Voters rejected a similar proposal two years ago, and the guess here is that they will do so again. But the lines of support and opposition will be something to see.

3. Idaho has only a few competitive legislative races this year, but several of those which do look to be close will merit close inspection.

In District 1, in the northern Panhandle, watch to see whether constituents will back Republican Heather Scott, aptly described by columnist Chuck Malloy as “one of the stars of the Redoubt movement”, or challenging Democrat Kate McAlister. Some of Scott’s supporters have been accused of harassing the opposition. (She has disavowed any knowledge.) Scott has become a statewide figure, and her win or loss will be widely noted, rightly so because it will say a lot about the character of the northern Idaho panhandle.

In District 6, House Democratic leader Jon Rusche of Lewiston, whose win two years ago was by a hairline, is being hard-pressed by Republican Mike Kingsley; billboards linking Rusche and Hillary Clinton have popped up around town. For a couple of decades Lewiston has been a closely competitive ground between the parties; a Rusche loss could indicate it is moving into a clear Republican tilt.

In west Boise’s District 15, Democrat Steve Berch is on the verge of defeating veteran Republican Representative Lynn Luker. This is Berch’s fourth election in a row running in the west/west-of Boise area. He took 32.2% of the vote in 2010, then 46.9% in 2012 and in 2014 he got 48.4%. Does he cross the line this year? If he does, he may open the door for Democrats not just within Boise city, but in some of its suburbs.

And in Twin Falls’ District 24, two hot races are said to be unusually close, as Republican Senator Lee Heider is pressed by Democrat Deborah Silver and Republican Representative Steve Hartgen by Catherine Talkington. A Democratic win in either race would be a breakthrough for Democrats who haven’t elected one of their own to the legislature here in decades. Democrats for a couple of decades have been offering the idea of winning elections in central Twin Falls; will this be the year?

4. The contested Supreme Court features two candidates with distinctly different backgrounds and approaches, though both have Republican backgrounds. State Senator Curt McKenzie has backing from a number of fellow legislators and lobbies, and he seems the more ideologically-oriented of the two. Attorney Robyn Brody got much higher markers in a state bar survey and has broadly scattered support. The race is considered competitive.

A lot of attention will go to the national maps on Tuesday, but don’t neglect those in Idaho. They’ll have plenty to say about the state, too.

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If Idaho does not vote for Donald Trump in the general election days from now, that would mean the Democratic sweep would be so massive only Oklahoma and West Virginia, maybe, would stay Republican red.

That’s not likely to happen, of course – as this is written a national win by Hillary Clinton for president looks probable but not that sweeping. And yet there is more to say about the Idaho presidential, owing in large part to Evan McMullin.

McMullin, who is on the ballot of only about a dozen states, was hardly known outside his family and co-workers only a few months ago, but now he has upended politics in Utah, and in part – not all – of Idaho. His professional career has run in national security (CIA), financial (he was an investment banker) and to a limited degree political (he was a House Republican staffer) mostly in the Washington, D.C. area. But what’s also critical to know is that he was born in Provo, Utah and has sterling Utah/Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint connections. If you liked Mitt Romney, you can listen to Evan McMullin and like what you hear from him too.

In this time of Trump, when many Mormons are appalled by the Republican nominee, McMullin has some real appeal.

He is the center of ferocious arguments among other Republicans, though, recognizing that conservative votes may be split between McMullin and Trump. Recent polls have showed Utah voters almost evenly split between Trump, McMullin and Clinton – raising the astonishing possibility that Clinton could win Utah with no larger share of the vote than she normally would get (which isn’t much).

Pundit Sean Hannity has gone apoplectic (“All this garbage from you Never Trumper jerks out there,” he shouted on one radio show. “November 9th, I have a lot to say about all of you.” And Fox’s Lou Dobbs said in a tweet, “Look Deeper, He’s [McMullin] nothing but a globalist, Romney and Mormon Mafia Tool.” That probably won’t go over very well back in Utah, the one state where McMullin may be on the cusp of winning.

But it could impact Idaho as well. Touring around southern Idaho this week I heard the phrase “the I-15 strategy” in reference to McMullin’s game plan, and it’s understandable and in concert with what he’s been doing so far. Many of the population centers where the LDS population is most concentrated are close by I-15, from St. George in the south to St. Anthony in the north, and McMullin stands to make a splash by working it hard.

Political people I talked to last week thought he probably will not pick up a big percentage in northern Idaho, and no more than sizable chunk from the Magic Valley on west. That means Idaho overall is not likely to tip away from the Trump column.

Polling last week that differentiated between the first congressional district (toward west) and the second (to the east) made exactly the same point, underlining it with this: In the second district, by itself, the vote for president could look a lot like Utah’s – with the possibility that either McMullin or even Clinton could win there. (Only, that is, in the second district, not in the whole state.)

If so, that could mean some important fractures surviving after the election in Republican politics in Idaho, fractures unlike anything the state’s party has seen before.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus